Summary: This is a first person narrative sermon as Pontius Pilate, with a challenge to "choose your king."
“A Visit From Pilate”
Greetings, people of Living Hope Community Church in the city of Durham in the province of Northern Carolina. My name is Pilatos. You may call me—Pilatos. I despise the name “Pilate.” For one thing, I do not care for your modern-day flying air chariots, and do not wish to be mistaken as one who operates them. For another, how many mothers ever name their sons “Pontius Pilate?” How would YOU like to be remembered as one of the all-time bad guys of history? Or worse, as one of the all time weaklings of history? You’ll notice that while the Jews get blamed as an entire race for the wrongful execution of Jesus of Nazareth, there’s only one Gentile who ever takes the heat—me. So my name is PILATOS. Everyone clear on this point?
I was prefect over Judea—a military governor of the Roman Empire, appointed directly by the Emperor Tiberius himself. My normal headquarters was in Caesarea, but I always made a point of being in Jerusalem during the Jews’ Passover celebration, to discourage any thoughts of revolution. As governor, I enjoyed the power, prestige, and pleasure that my office afforded me—but mostly the power. I loved having power and I loved using power, violently if I had to … and sometimes just because I could. I had always been fascinated by might, strength, power. As a young boy I would go outside when it was dark. I remember the feeling of the sand between my toes and the cool night breeze across my face. I’d look up at the stars flung across the heavens and dream. I swear I could almost hear a voice whispering to me on the night air: “Do you see those stars, Pilatos? Aren’t they amazing? I made them, and I made YOU, Pilatos.”
(JEWS BRING JESUS BEFORE PILATE)
But you know how life goes. Time, and other priorities drowned out that voice. Namely the priority I placed on gaining power. And as a Roman prefect I had become cynical, stubborn, wily, and quite frankly I despised my subjects. I’m sure none of your present-day politicians fit that description, but that’s how you made it in the old unholy Roman Empire. So I wasn’t feeling particularly cooperative that early Friday morning when the Jew leaders brought a man to me at the praetorium. As usual, they refused to enter my palace, for fear of becoming “unclean.” (And you think I treated THEM with contempt!) You can imagine how cheery I was at the thought of having to come outside in the haze of daybreak to meet them. I hated dealing with these people. Early in my reign I had introduced embossed figures of Emperor Tiberius to Jerusalem. The Jews didn’t like it—promoted emperor worship, they said. They sent a delegation to me and begged five days for their removal. The sixth day, I sent a detachment of soldiers into the crowd. At a given signal they all drew their swords in a show of Rome’s military might. Do you know what the Jews did? They bared their necks and shouted they would rather die than transgress their holy laws! You can’t reason with religious fanatics like that. Can’t talk sense to them. I remember thinking how I had many important matters to attend to that day—a rigorous schedule of eating, bathing, and relaxing—but since we weren’t on the sundial just yet I decided I would hear their case against this man. I already knew something of the situation—it was my soldiers who had arrested him, after all. I went outside and saw them, along with the man, his head down and hands bound together in front of him. It caught them up short when I asked for the charges against this Jesus of Nazareth. They just wanted me to take their word for it and not start my own investigation. They looked at each other until someone sputtered, “If he were not a criminal … we would not have handed him over to you.” Well, I figured if they were going to waste my time, I could waste some of theirs. “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law,” I said. But they couldn’t do that. Seems they wanted this man crucified for political crimes. You see, we wouldn’t allow the Jews to exercise capital punishment—well, sometimes we’d look the other way at an occasional stoning or mob violence. But for this, if they expected me to hand down a capital sentence, I was going to need some convincing. I was going to need some acknowledgment of my position, my power over them. They charged this Jesus with claiming to be “the king of the Jews.” This could involve some political unrest, so I had him brought inside for questioning.